How the Insurgents Want to Play the Game

Joseph Bernstein’s article at Buzzfeed about how Steve Bannon set up Milo Yiannopoulos to be the bridge between Breitbart and the alt-right gave us some fascinating insight into how white nationalism was brought out of the shadows and into mainstream political discourse. It is interesting to pair those revelations with something Bannon recently said to Robert Kuttner.

“The Democrats,” he said, “the longer they talk about identity politics, I got ’em. I want them to talk about racism every day. If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats.”

Do you see how that works in Bannon’s twisted mind? He provides a platform for the weaponization of the alt-right and then, when those ideas are condemned, he assumes that he’s “got ’em.” This is yet another example of how Bannon thinks he’s smarter than liberals. Do you remember when he said this to Michael Wolff?

Darkness is good…Dick Cheney. Darth Vader. Satan. That’s power.

He revels in playing the provocateur and constantly talks about being a “street fighter” in a war. What he thinks we won’t notice is how he keeps doing all he can to ignite that war and fan the flames when they appear. That’s why, ever since I read the Bernstein piece, I’ve been thinking about what he said after Hillary Clinton gave her speech during the campaign about the alt-right. Here’s the exchange:

On August 25, after Hillary Clinton’s alt-right speech, Yiannopoulos emailed Bannon, “I’ve never laughed so hard.”

“Dude: we r inside her f*cking head,” Bannon wrote back.

In other words, after doing all he could to promote the message of the alt-right into the mainstream, he thinks he won some sort of victory when Clinton exposed the connection. That is actually this guy’s political strategy. His claims about being a “populist” with an agenda that is all about economic nationalism are the front he puts up in order to play that game. We might call it the new “dog whistle.”

When Milo Yiannopoulos’s name started showing up in the news, I pretty much ignored him. He sounded like nothing more than another Ann Coulter, who made her money by writing and saying the most outrageous things things and then claiming that her free speech rights were violated when people said they didn’t want to hear what she had to say. In case you haven’t seen it before, here is Al Franken providing the most appropriate response to that kind of nonsense.

What used to be a way for Ann Coulter to make some money has now been employed by the insurgents in their long-term strategy to take over the Republican Party by sowing the seeds of chaos and vindictiveness in our political discourse.

Because we are now dealing with the reality that the insurgents have been successful in putting their guy in the White House as well as in charge of federal departments like DOJ, the Department of Education, and the EPA, this has all gone beyond simply being about discourse and has begun to be implemented as policy that actually has an impact on people’s lives. So while I could ignore Coulter and Yiannopoulos, I can’t ignore Jeff Sessions as the sitting attorney general. That is the challenge we face today.

I don’t for a minute think that Steve Bannon actually got inside Hillary Clinton’s head the way he thinks he did. She gave a thoughtful speech in which she defined the alt-right and explained their connection to Donald Trump and his candidacy. It was Bannon’s promotion of the alt-right onto the mainstream stage that played a role in making that speech necessary. But he would have successfully gotten inside her head if she had taken it all personally and lashed out vindictively—the way people like Coulter and Yiannopoulos do. That’s their approach, but has never been Clinton’s style.

Both Franken and Clinton have given us options for effective ways to deal with these kinds of provocations. Each of them used their own personal strengths to do so—Franken used humor and Clinton responded thoughtfully with facts.

What we are facing is a bully who is attempting to get us into the gutter to play the game the way he prefers…ugly, chaotic and vindictive. I think that liberals are actually smarter than Bannon, and recognize that is the path to authoritarianism, not democracy.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.